It was midday. The street was alive with the hustle and bustle of street people peddling wares to a hungry public. A fiver or a tenner for this and that. Little fish in shoddy clothes attracted the more glittering and better dressed bigger ones. Clothes, bikes, watches, jewelry and, of course, porn in all its forms were hot items on the market. Some things interested me, most didn’t. To me, ten watches, six bikes and excess bling was just ego trying to look impressive by filling the emptiness within. How much of anything satiated a hungry ghost? Still even I had my moments. Buyer-beware was one thing, expecting not to get ripped off another. ‘I never thought he/she would do that to me!’ and ‘Let’s get ‘em’ were tossed around like hot potatoes highlighting inabilities to handle disappointment.
Someone approached bragging about being asked to open a bank account for someone else. Feeling needed, his eyes gleamed full of pride. But that was the problem with pride it only gave a limited perspective on reality. Before me was a young man in danger of further damaging his future because it felt good to be needed. But I knew there were better ways to get our feelings met.
About ten years ago, I persuaded someone else to rethink their actions by respecting their ability to make decisions for himself. After all, if it really was so easy why couldn’t they do it themselves? Even though he might be protecting his ‘investment’ with excuses, he’d only known them for a day or two. I knew him longer and was only trying to protect him and his future. Surely that had to count for something. Knowing not to push it any further, I got up and left him to his fate. Later, he told me when they threatened him for not going through with it he knew they weren’t his friends. I smiled. Another lesson learned.
Another time, when someone was bragging about their new bike, a guy and a girl showed up out of the blue. The two guys began arguing, the girl jumped in screaming insults. Both sides laid claims to the bike, but neither had a receipt to prove it. Worse, if I did take a side was I supposed to fight a girl? While she didn’t look very girl-like, I also knew drugs tended to do that after a while. Torn between having to fight a girl and the truth of ownership, I stood back and watched the scene unfold. Fists were thrown; heads were bashed into cars in a scene out of the WWF. Standing still, I trusted the bike would end up with its rightful ‘owner’.
The next day, he was pissed off at me for not playing the game. I felt like a coward, yet that wasn’t the whole truth. I fought for people in ways and on levels he could only dream about, not just the physical. Lowering his head as a sign of understanding, nothing more was ever said.
The new bike ‘owner’ thought I was on his side and invited me walk through an apartment building for the sheer fun of it. Even though I had my own imaginary helm in Zack’s apartment building, I told him the idea of doing something because it could be done was boring. Still, I went along once to establish my street ‘cred’ with him and to show I wasn’t scared. Inside, I told the Aquarian how much I respected his independence to do whatever he wanted to do, but I did too. If his life revolved around apartments so much he should consider getting one. To my surprise he lowered his head and agreed.
Another time, someone was pissed off because they were being chased for stealing something. “Did you,” I asked. ‘No,’ he said. Looking him in the eye I asked again: “Did you?” ‘No!’ he reaffirmed. “Sorry, but you know how easy it is to lie and be taken for a fool. I just had to see if you really meant it.” As his anger dissipated, I rethought the situation. “If you didn’t do it, do you know who did?” ‘No.’ “Do the people blaming you see you take it?” ‘No.’ “Oh! Then really it’s about blame. Someone had to pay for someone’s hurt feelings and they’ve chosen you. How does that make you feel?” ‘Pissed off.’ “Good!” ‘What!?’ “You should feel pissed off for being blamed for something you haven’t done. Right? It happened to me in school in England. I got blamed for throwing a ball-bearing at someone in science class. I didn’t do it, but I was sick and tired of the real person not owning up to it. So I lied and said it was me. I got a caning across my hand even after telling the principal it wasn’t me. To them they just needed to know that something was being done and someone was being blamed. Sarah was the only girl who believed me when I said I didn’t do it. You’re like I was right now.” ‘But I didn’t do it!’ “I know, it’s a huge cross to bear. But if you stick with your truth the real person will be found out and their punishment increased. For some strange reason even liars hate liars! Do you think maybe the person who really did it might be spreading a false rumor to take the spotlight away from them?” His eyes lit up. ‘Thanks,’ he said and walked away.
With so many games being played out, I finally chose to look at my own. If everything I’d done up until then had led me to being a homeless drug addict then doing the opposite had to lead anywhere but there. It’d be hard, but no harder than what I was going through. So instead of taking things readily available, I went on a journey I called the ‘Temptation of Mike’ to see what it felt like doing the opposite. It was tougher than anything I’d ever done before, but not giving into my immediate feelings of taking things however ‘free’ more than made up for being a slave to immediate gratification, jealousy and envy.
From this seemingly mad personal trial something amazing happened. In a moment of clarity, I saw something so real it shook every foundation of my being. My development as a human being didn’t solely depend on material possessions! In fact, if used incorrectly they actually hindered it. It was difficult to accept how the very things assumed to make life easier might in fact be doing the opposite. With so much pride attached to the evolution of things, we’d lost sight of our own evolution. If my ability to think and feel wasn’t tethered to materialism, was there a different relationship between them that could be developed? If anything it’d free me from having to keep up with the Jones’. If we were the most valuable treasure in the Universe then every life cut and polished the ultimate jewel known as God to His desire and not just our own.
Armed with my new insight, I watched myself get caught up in the game of being stolen from: someone took, ran, was chased, hid and if found out punished. But what would happen if I didn’t do what was expected of me? Instead of freaking out or doing nothing because I was scared, I smiled, waved, sang and even did a jig – anything to channel the energy differently. Did people do the expected because it was easier to hide in the acceptable or because they were afraid to be seen doing the unexpected? How many other ways were there to do things I was unaware of? Shock-waves rippled through the community. Sure some thought I was an easy target, but I knew better. On another plane, I observed guilt weave its magic.
Now when people eyed me suspiciously, I took out things from my shopping cart and gifted them. I didn’t care if they’d stolen from me or not! Just seeing the looks on their faces was worth every dumpster-diving penny! But my plans were more insidious than that. I was changing how ‘Crime and Punishment‘ was being played. The idea of punishment being the only solution to crime was nothing more than a socially accepted meme.
‘You can’t just give things away.’ “But I’ve already done it.” ‘I don’t care, you can’t!’ “Who said? I can do whatever I want to do as long as I accept the the consequences of my actions and no one gets hurt.” ‘Well people are getting hurt.’ He was right – in a way. “People always get hurt whether the rules change or not.” I could literally hear the gears of their minds turning trying to grasp new concepts. “How am I hurting you by giving you a gift?” ‘I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.’ “That doesn’t make it wrong. It just means you have new feelings to deal with. If you want the old feelings then maybe – just maybe – you might be expecting to be punished like a thief would.” ‘I’m not a thief!’ “Good. Then you have nothing to worry about do you?”
They knew when they were beat. Some ran, others felt insulted, but if you were going to mess with me, I was going to mess with you and in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine! I guess that was why I was given the nickname ‘The Gong-Meister.’ Oh well, one more nickname to add to the collection.
After a full day of binning, me and Tom ran into a guy called ‘Freedom‘. I laughed, but sensed something different about him as though he was sent by the Universe as a test. Predictably, Tom fell in love with his free-spirited attitude; I predictably grew jealous for no longer being the center of his attention. Looking for a way to make my mark, I saw Freedom’s proverbial ‘fly in the ointment‘. First I had to accept he wasn’t wrong. His beliefs just didn’t apply to the current world. Not yet anyway. The apparent curse of human existence was to manifest freedom! Turning to Tom, I told him if he wanted money for drugs he’d have work within the timetable of the liquor stores. Unless he knew somewhere else, he’d have to wait until the next day or the next and go without his rewards. Did he have a safe place to store the empties and how would he get them and any new ones to the store? He’d been doing it long enough. It was up to him. Freedom was his ability to choose what to do in the moment!
In a flash he got up, left us both behind, grabbed his cart piled high with empties and was off to cash them in. I sat with Freedom and exchanged philosophies on freedom, discipline and the consequences of not embracing life on life’s terms. I understood his freedom of choice to not do anything if he didn’t want to. But the world he lived and spoke in wasn’t like that – yet! Still, I believed humanity was alive to form bridges between conceptual and practical freedoms. And we were just another one of those bridges! With that I respectfully got up and left. Had he been sent to test me, to see if I really meant what I said or not? I wasn’t sure, but by the way I felt I knew I’d found and affirmed yet another piece of the jigsaw puzzle – with his help.
I caught up with Tom near the closest liquor store. Money in hand, he was in a mad rush to call his dealer. We talked for a few minutes before I realized how hungry I was. I wanted food, he wanted drugs and he had our money. He told me getting high would deal with the hunger. He was right, but I felt like a reward after confronting ‘Freedom’. Besides, he hadn’t eaten in days, so he had to eat something. The logic escaped him. Realizing he could only see was his reward of getting high, I told him to take part of the money and buy some food – a small part – for a burger or something, and the rest could go to drugs. That way he not only got high, but took care of his body as well. Just because he thought he didn’t have to take care of his body didn’t mean anything outside of his thinking. He didn’t have to think about going to the toilet, so why was eating any different?
He shouted at me, screaming that I always got my way. I couldn’t believe it. I followed him around for days and nights, worked my ass off and never asked for a dime, yet somehow I always got my way. If that really was my way, I had a thing or two to learn about ways! Fire burned in my eyes, I turned and said: “if and I mean if, I do always get my way maybe its because you don’t have a way. That way you don’t have to be responsible for anything. Do you?” Like a deer caught in headlights, he lowered his head and walked away. I was just thankful I’d survived the confrontation.
In the end, others told me how much they didn’t like him. Sure that was their problem, but like my dad used to say: it takes two hands to clap. I watched him from a distance using my knowledge to get his way and then manipulate others out of their belongings. Angry that he didn’t care for others the way I did, I chastised him. In retrospect, he was just being himself. Yet the idea of him profiting off all my hard work and not even willing to give me a nickel unless I wrote a contract in blood was more than I could bare. Even though the illusions were falling, I still didn’t want to believe he was more invested in taking. No, that went against my Piscean idea of love. Irritated beyond belief, I turned to others for help. If he wasn’t going to listen to me, I’d teach the others to better themselves and be on the lookout for the games being played. On the good side, others learned their lessons. On the bad side, I had to let Tom just be himself.
© Michael J. Varma, The Gong Show, 2011 –
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